LABOUR will force fly-tippers who blight the countryside to join “clean-up squads”, shadow environment secretary Steve Reed has said as he set out the party’s offer to rural voters.

Mr Reed said Labour would treat the countryside with respect and devolve power to its communities in a speech to delegates from rural, farming and environmental organisations at the Future Countryside conference in Syon Park, west London.

He said Labour policies, from its plan for a state-owned clean energy company to greater mental health support, more teachers in schools and a focus on skills, would benefit people in the countryside.

Polling suggests Labour is ahead of the Tories in their traditional heartlands but voters in some of the country’s most rural constituencies still think party leaders need to show more respect for their communities.

Acknowledging he is not from a countryside background, Mr Reed said: “People from urban areas – like me – will not tell people who live and work in the countryside how they should live their lives”.

Mr Reed promised Labour would fix issues including the housing crisis and what he said was a rural crime epidemic that was devastating to communities.

He pledged Labour would increase police patrols in towns and villages, adding: “We won’t accept the levels of GPS farm equipment theft and livestock worrying.

“We’ll force offenders who dump rubbish, fly tip or vandalise our fields to join clean-up squads.”

And he told delegates: “We need more homes but they will not be built at the expense of the environment.”

He said he wanted to see “biodiversity net gain” – the requirement that developers have to boost nature by 10% linked to development – work, adding: “New homes will be built with tree-lined streets and access to green spaces and nature on their doorsteps.”

Mr Reed also pledged to make effective the environmental land management scheme of payments for farmers, speed up building of flood defences and slash planning decision waiting times to enable farmers, landowners and rural businesses to plug renewables into the grid.

Labour is also committed to restoring nature and would deliver on a legal goal to halt the decline of species by 2030, and the UK’s international commitment to protect 30% of land and seas by the same date, he said.

“We all need nature but we stand at a moment in history when nature needs us to defend it.

“Without nature there is no economy, no food, no health and no society.

“The next Labour government will act to protect our long-term security by investing in the natural world that is essential to it.”

In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Mr Reed addressed the apparent conflict between land for farming, nature and other uses, saying: “I don’t accept that nature and farming need to be in opposition to each other.

“We have to get them to work together, there are sustainable and regenerative methods for farming that are also productive.”

He also reiterated that Labour would not bring in Scottish-style “right to roam” rules but said access to the countryside could be increased, for example by opening up closed footpaths.